x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ahmadinejad emerges as an unlikely ally as Iran lauds the Occupy movement protests

Iran's hardline regime is revelling in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, proclaiming the "American awakening" heralds the collapse of western capitalism.

Iranian women show support for the Occupy Wall Street movement outside the Swiss Embassy in Tehran in October.
Iranian women show support for the Occupy Wall Street movement outside the Swiss Embassy in Tehran in October.

Iran's hardline regime is revelling in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, proclaiming the "American awakening" heralds the collapse of western capitalism.

Given the similar failure of communism, the world now needs a "new order" and new management, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared at the weekend.

And he has the answer.

The "only alternative" to both systems is the "global rule of the Imam of the Age", he insisted, referring to the Shiite messiah, Imam Mahdi. The 12th and last of the Shiite Imams, he went into hiding in the 9th century. Most Shiites believe that he will return at the apocalyptic end of time to save mankind and bring Islamic peace and justice to the world.

Mr Ahmadinejad's unsolicited advice to the "arrogant" West echoes a famous letter that Ayatollah Khomeini, the late founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, wrote to Mikhael Gorbachev in January 1989. The ayatollah told the Soviet leader that communism belonged to the museum of history and that, before falling into the trap of materialistic capitalism, he should study Islam seriously as a way of life.

Those protesting on the streets of western cities against the excesses of capitalism may be surprised to learn that every "inhumane crackdown" against them is headline news in Tehran.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has assured Occupy protesters that they should not lose heart. "The corruption of capitalism has become clear to the people," he said in a speech in October. "They [the authorities] may crack down on this movement but cannot uproot it. Ultimately, it will grow so that it will bring down the capitalist system and the West."

Another hardline ayatollah, Mohsen Heydari, excitedly claimed that the western protesters were hastening the return of Imam Mahdi, whom the devout believe will re-emerge during a period of turbulence on Earth. "The Occupy Wall Street Movement is the big step to prepare the ground for the reappearance of the 12th Imam," he told congregants at a mosque in the city of Ahvaz last month.

When Mr Ahmadinejad first took office in 2005, he declared his intention was to hasten the Mahdi's return, and has since claimed that the 12th Imam supports the day-to-day workings of his government. Such comments have angered many senior Iranian clerics, who argue that they alone are qualified to speak on the subject.

For some Iranian politicians, the Occupy protests in the US were about more than economic issues. There is a "freedom-seeking dimension" that "aims to oppose the hegemonic system which has humiliated people for many years", Zohreh Elahian, a member of parliament, said during the weekend.

Not since riots gripped British cities last summer has the Iranian regime indulged in such schadenfreude, or ignored so many inconvenient home truths as it twists events to promote its own world view. No official, for instance, has pointed out that peaceful, "freedom-seeking" protesters in Iran tend to end up in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, which is home to scores, if not more, political prisoners.

Iran's hardline volunteer Basij militia has even established a website in English and Farsi called "Wall Street Fall" to champion the Occupy protesters. It claims to provide news coverage about the movement that "truth enthusiasts" in the West are being deprived of by the "universal Zionist media propaganda". However, most items on the site, wsfall.com, has been lifted from leading US dailies, such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

So inspired was one Basij member by the Occupy protesters that he has composed a thumping rap song in their honour, (which can be heard at mobarezclip.com/mobarez/wall-street.mp3).

Over an Iranian beat, Hashem Bafghi, intones in heavily accented English:

Occupy Wall Street is a real war street

What happened to the American Dream?

Don't watch and have ice cream

Capitalism failed everyone

Killed the people one by one.

"Enlightened" Occupy activists would likely be dismayed that they were being celebrated by the Basij, whose members led the crackdown against the peaceful street protests that erupted after Mr Ahmadinejad's "stolen" re-election in 2009.

The Basij made headline news again last week when they stormed Britain's two diplomatic compounds in Tehran.

By devoting so much press to the Occupy movement, the Iranian regime has attempted to demonstrate that its system is ascendant over the western one, socially, morally and culturally, analysts say.

"But it's also keen to deflect attention at home from the regime's own weaknesses," said Scott Lucas, an expert on Iran and US foreign policy at Birmingham University in England.

Iran's unpopular, hardline ruling elite has been convulsed by a damaging power struggle, the country's economy has been hit by tough sanctions over its nuclear programme, and Tehran's international isolation deepened again last week because of the debacle over the British Embassy.

With double-digit inflation and unemployment, economic mismanagement and a currency that has plummeted almost six per cent against the dollar since September, the regime is struggling to deliver the social justice it has long promised. And Iran's banking system is reeling from a US$2.8 billion (Dh10.3bn) fraud scandal, the biggest in the country's history.

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae